Posts Tagged Champions League

Not Every Whistle Blower Can Be a Collina But


Former Tottenham Hotspur striker Garth Crooks made a legitimate analysis on BBC Sport’s post-match analysis of the fiery London derby between Chelsea and Arsenal on Saturday, which the Blues won 2-0 courtesy of a Kurt Zouma header and a deflected Eden Hazard goal early and late in the second half respectively.

Before the goals however, it would not have been much of a surprise if the match had gone on to finish goalless, or to have seen either side steal a win with a fortuitous goal. Arsenal were hardly at their fluid best at Stamford Bridge but nonetheless were holding their own against a Chelsea side that can probably be seen as on a resurgence having secured back-to-back wins for the first time this season, scoring six and conceding none to boot.

In another realm of reality, Zouma scoring his first Premier League goal against a rival could have been the major talking point. Another realm of reality could have chosen to ponder on whether Hazard’s so far form is on the mend having scored, albeit off Arsenal defender Calum Chambers.

Perhaps we could have been going on about how Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger managed a (rather frosty) handshake before kick-off but ‘forgot’ or were too occupied to share another at full time, with Wenger walking right down the tunnel while Mourinho, understandably, shared a warm hug with a man he still trusts completely, John Terry.

As we would have it though, in whatever realm of reality you choose to exist, the major talking point had to do with two Brazilian born players, each on either side who threw up what perhaps has been missing in a lot of so-called derby matches in the English top flight; tempers!

Arsenal defender Gabriel reacts after being sent off against Chelsea, while Diego Costa watches on.

Arsenal’s Gabriel Paulista struggling with Chelsea’s Pedro and Branislav Ivanovic while Diego Costa watches on

That happened just before halftime and imagine after such altercation, both players remained on the field for the rest of the encounter, all riled up and just itching for the other to as much as glance along their path for a proper brawl to break out and perhaps for more slaps to be served two or three involved faces.

Arsenal fans and many neutrals can go on all week about how insert your feelings about the striker’s behaviour here disgusting, despicable, unacceptable, unsporting, irritating and appalling Costa’s part in getting Gabriel sent off was but what is a derby if neither side has at least one player being a tick in the skins of his opposition all game?

Didier Drogba held a psychological card on Philippe Senderos and Arsenal for a long time, same hold Costa seems to be having on a lot of opponents in the Premier League having previously been involved in confrontations, but somehow not getting sent off in his ‘two’ seasons so far in the Premier League.

Everton's Tim Howard confronts that man Costa

Everton’s Tim Howard confronts that man Costa

Which is why I agreed 100% with Spurs fan Crooks, ironically riled about an injustice to an Arsenal player when he said, “We all want to see 11 against 11. It’s a great game” and indeed it was, until referee Mike Dean felt it appropriate to send off one party in the altercation and leave the other on the field with just a yellow card for his troubles. Would not have been the 11 on 11 one wanted, but 10 on 10 was not a bad option at all. Alas.

Dean’s only fault as it turns out, was not showing that red card to Costa as well when he showed it to Gabriel for if he had, we probably would be scrambling for the best resolution footage of a classic tunnel bust-up between both players and possibly their teammates off the field and bench… along with the coaching staff… and both managers, tantalisingly.

However, showing just one red card brought an imbalance to what was – to that point – a contest of two sides looking to bounce back for different reasons. Instead, we were left to consume a largely one-sided second half (inevitably) which saw Santi Cazorla get himself sent off to add a feeling of injustice for Arsenal fans and a need for justification for Chelsea fans.

Good old days, one would have had a good time or held a proper grudge (depending on what side of reality you existed) at Martin Keown for (in)famously rubbing Ruud van Nistelrooy’s penalty miss in the final minute of that match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford in 2003.

I mean… Keown was just getting started but look at Ashley Cole too

… Keown was getting warmed up now even though Ruud was all cool…

… think the angle in the last one did an injustice to this moment…

… but very few moments beat this ‘point driven straight home’ part of this moment of what used to be a proper rivalry.

After the incident (between Costa and Gabriel that is), Keown tweeted he would have loved to play against the Chelsea striker. That tweet reeked of an emotion missing in current Arsenal players and a whole lot at others club who have to be ‘appropriate’ or risk being farcically charged by the trigger happy FA for the comment deemed ever so slightly inappropriate.

The Arsenal manager and others of his kind should not always expect the opponent to play nice and allow the other team be the better team. That is not how the football gods (not Messi and Ronaldo but their mythical ancestors) ordained the procession to go, otherwise they would be a bunch of bored lawmakers who doze off during once-a-quarter sessions.

But all of that is for another feast of sporting battles.

Admittedly not every Mike Dean can be Pierluigi Collina great, not even Collina’s compatriot Nicola Rizzoli who saw PSV Eindhoven’s Héctor Morono get his Ryan Shawcross on and do a Ramsey on poor Luke Shaw during a UEFA Champions League encounter, which Manchester United eventually lost 2-1 with Morono scoring one of those goals for PSV.

Excuse me while I do a Crooks complimenting Dean before slating him, Rizzoli is a top official otherwise he would not have been named Serie A Referee of the Year in 2011, 2012 and 2013 nor would he have been chosen to officiate the final of the 2010 UEFA Europa League, the 2013 UEFA Champions League final and the 2014 FIFA World Cup final.

Luke Shaw injured during PSV v Manchester United

Luke Shaw injured during PSV v Manchester United

But in the Champions League group stage match in Eindhoven, Rizzoli covered himself in all the aforementioned adjectives for Diego Costa when he (for the benefit of doubt) forgot to book Morono for his rash challenge on Shaw. Had he done so, and given the player the red card he deserved, would PSV have won?

So, one must disagree with Crooks when he implied that referees should not try to be in the spotlight. In fact, they should have the spotlight right on them as much as the one beaming on Costa’s [insert adjectives] behaviour in order to make the referees realise how much their decisions actually impact on results.

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Over the Weekend: Pillars Retain League Title, Nigerian Wave Rips Mexico Apart and More


Here I was mellow mocking Shooting Stars of Ibadan early in the week since the Ibadan club faced inevitable relegation from the Premier League, two matches (to end the season) after and alas, Kwara United got relegated as well.

Such was the dramatic nature with which the 2012/13 Nigeria Premier League ended on Sunday, with another Ilorin club ABS FC joining the two in being relegated despite thrashing Nembe City 6-1 in their penultimate match of the season in midweek.

At the brighter end of the table meanwhile, only three points separated the top four finishers, with Kano Pillars winning the league title by a mere point despite losing 2-0 at Lobi Stars on the final day.

Enyimba, that had been put out of title contention in a midweek loss at Sunshine Stars, finished second with 62 points while Bayelsa United finished with 61 points and El-Kanemi Warriors ended in fourth place with 60 points.

Pillars’ title win makes the northern side the first, since Enyimba did 10 years ago, to successfully defend the league title. Both clubs will now be Nigeria’s representatives for next season’s CAF Champions League.

In this season’s Champions League, defending champions Al-Ahly of Egypt will come up against South Africa’s Orlando Pirates, after beating Cameroun’s Coton Sport 7-6 on penalties in Cairo.

Pirates had overcome Esperance in Tunis on aggregate despite drawing their first leg goalless, while Al-Ahly came through on penalties after both legs against Coton Sport of Cameroun ended in 1-1 draws.

Away from the continent but still, mostly, about the continent, Nigeria began her quest for a record fourth FIFA U17 World Cup title with an emphatic 6-1 dispatch of their Mexican counterparts on Saturday.

The duo of Kelechi Ineanacho and Success Isaac orchestrated the wave that blew the Mexicans apart, with Isaac the Özil of the Golden Eaglets while Ineanacho finished the match with four goals.

The competition had begun with Brazil recording same score in their match against Slovakia, while Uruguay thrashed New Zealand 7-0 in another encounter.

Cote D’Ivoire lost by a lone goal to Italy before drawing their second match 1-1 against Uruguay while Brazil got a second 6-1 win, this time against host nation United Arab Emirates on Sunday.

Africa’s other representatives though have begun well like Nigeria, with Morocco getting a 3-1 win over Croatia in their opening Group C match while Tunisia beat Venezuela 2-1 in their opening Group D match.

Surely a few decent and big European clubs (at least Porto, Ajax and probably a few English clubs) will have scouts watching on the progress of such players as Isaac, Ineanacho, Nathan of Brazil among a few others.

One teenager whose somewhat made it to the big time though is 18 year old Adnan Januzaj, who over the weekend signed a new five year deal with Manchester United and laid to rest his club future at least.

The Belgian/Croat/Serbian/Albanian/Turkish/could-be-English-if-he-chooses teenager will reportedly now earn £30,000 per week, a vast improvement from the previous thousand pound per week contract he was on.

On the field however, his presence failed to transcend a vast improvement of the club’s fortunes as Southampton came away from Old Trafford with a 1-1 draw in a Premier League match on Saturday.

The result leaves the Red Devils in eighth place with 11 points while Southampton dropped to sixth with 15 points, behind Tottenham Hotspur on goal difference after Spurs won 2-0 at Aston Villa and ahead of Everton on goal difference after the Toffees won 2-1 at home to Hull City (Tigers).

Chelsea now occupy second spot with 17 points after an eventful 4-1 win over Cardiff City in a match that witnessed Samuel Eto’o nick the ball while the Cardiff goalkeeper, having made a save, bounced it while preparing to take a goal-kick.

Eto’o’s wit led to Chelsea’s equaliser, before further goals including the Cameroun striker’s first for the club won the three points for the Londoners, whose manager Jose Mourinho was sent to the stands. The ‘Happy One’ would later ‘miss’ the post-match conference.

Elsewhere, Liverpool could only draw 2-2 at 10-man Newcastle United to drop to third behind Chelsea on goal difference while Manchester City is a point behind in fourth after a brace and an assist from Sergio Agüero gave City a 3-1 win at West Ham United.

And Arsenal opened a two-point lead at the top of the league after some sublime football led to the 4-1 defeat of Norwich City through goals from Jack Wilshere, a Mesut Özil brace (including his first ever headed goal) and an emphatic Aaron Ramsey finish.

The Gunners’ focus is now on their third UEFA Champions League match at home to Borussia Dortmund, with the German side coming into the match on the back of a 1-0 win over Hannover 96 in the Bundesliga.

That win kept the bumblebees in second place with 21 points, a point behind Bayern Munich that came from a goal down to crush Mainz 4-1 courtesy of Mario Götze who provided three of the goals there.

Bayer Leverkusen is third with 21 points after getting a 2-1 win at Hoffenheim on Friday in rather odd circumstance, with Sidney Sam giving Leverkusen the lead before Stefan Kießling’s header was counted as a goal despite the ball going into the net through a hole in the sidenetting.

Hannover would then pull a goal back before coming ever so close to an equaliser in the dying minutes, only to be denied by the Leverkusen goalkeeper and twice by the goalpost in a frenetic two seconds.

In the Spanish La Liga, Lionel Messi returned from injury but was unable to prevent Osasuna getting a point from the encounter which ended in a goalless draw.

That result ended Barcelona’s perfect start to the season, having won their opening eight matches heading into the match. Barça though now hold a one point lead over Atletico Madrid whose perfect start also came to an end with Espanyol beating Atletico 1-0 in the pseudo-Clasico.

Both results allowed third placed Real Madrid to come within two points of their city rival and three points of their archrival thanks to a 2-0 win over Malaga with goals from Angel di Maria and a late Cristiano Ronaldo penalty.

In Italy however, Roma maintained their perfect start to the season by winning 2-0 at home to second placed Napoli and also ended with the weekend five points clear of the league as Juventus failed to take advantage of Napoli’s loss.

The Old Lady relinquished a 2-0 lead to lose 4-2 at Fiorentina to remain in third place, followed by Hellas Verona with 16 points while Inter Milan and Fiorentina have 15 points with Inter coming away from Turin with a 3-3 draw against Torino.

In France, Paris Saint Germain opened a two point lead at the top of the league thanks to a 4-0 bashing of Bastia with Zlatan scoring two goals including another memorable backheeled goal to add to his collection of audacious goals.

Monaco remain second but saw a 2-0 lead disappear as the principality club was held 2-2 at Sochaux while title rival Olympique Marseille stumbled further, losing 1-0 on Friday.

Still with the French but in tennis, Richard Gasquet hopped over compatriot Jo-Wilfred Tsonga to occupy the final ATP World Tour Final slot after the former won the Kremlin Cup and the latter lost in the semi-final of the Austrian Open.

With one tournament left to play for each player ahead of the London finale which serves off November 4, only three players – Rafael Nadal, defending champion Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer – are outrightly guaranteed of their place.

Juan Martin Del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Stanislas Wawrinka would confirm their places with good enough showings this week while Roger Federer could still miss out altogether if he performs poorly this week and two of the four players behind him do well.

Those players are Gasquet, Tsonga, Canadian Milos Raonic and German veteran Tommy Haas who gave himself an outside chance of making the London finale by winning the Austrian Open with a 6-3 4-6 6-4 win over Robin Haase.

Federer meanwhile has stated he would be more delighted to see compatriot Wawrinka make the Tour Final than him, having not missed the season’s curtain-closer in the last 11 years.

And with that, it’s the curtain call for this post. On this day, former England international Paul Ince is born in 1967, Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic is born in 1981 and television star Kim Kardashian is born in 1980.

Tomorrow, the Golden Eaglets take on Sweden in what should be their group’s star match while Arsène Wenger will hope for a 64th birthday present with an Arsenal win over Dortmund tomorrow night.

And to you reading, hope you have a great week ahead!

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During the Week: About Cup Hosts Ahead of a Loaded Football Weekend


For a tournament a good nine years from starting, football’s 2022 FIFA World Cup to be held in Qatar has generated a courier load of discussion all inspired by the dilemma of whether one of the world’s biggest sporting events should hold in the unusual winter period from January rather than the usual summer schedule from June.

The logic behind a winter World Cup is that temperatures above 50 degrees, which could be attained during a Qatari summer and would pose a danger to human health during the mundial, would be avoided by shifting the tournament to the Qatari winter.

Now, while a whole lot of a certain continent’s people probably aren’t bothered about under what weather the football would be played, Australia are not only bothered… the folks from down under are considering to seek about $43m in compensation having lost in the votes for the hosting rights to Qatar after spending some £25m on its bid.

According to a statement from Football Federation Australia’s chief Frank Lowy, “… with increasing speculation about a change that will impact on us as one of the bidding nations, and because our competition will be affected, we have made our position public.” adding that “just and fair compensation” be given to the nations that “invested many millions, and national prestige, in bidding for a summer event”.

The Qataris meanwhile, via the 2022 Supreme Committee, are saying there really is no need for the World Cup to be moved from summer and all should keep calm and observe as they go about “creating comfortable conditions for public areas, walkways, training pitches and stadia both during and after the World Cup, (which) means being able to play and watch football matches in summer throughout the country.”

The committee stated further that “cooling technology has existed at Jassim bin Hamad (Al Sadd) Stadium since 2008. This June, the stadium (in Doha) hosted a FIFA World Cup qualifier in cool and comfortable conditions. We are now in the process of developing and perfecting sustainable cooling technologies to ensure that our Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup stadia, training grounds and fan zones offer the optimal temperature for players and fans to enjoy the games.”

Putting aside potentially awesome cooling technologies along with alleged ‘politics’ and ‘pressure’ involved in awarding Qatar the hosting rights, the FFA’s position on the matter strays offside in my view based on the suggested compensation which leads to a few other subfactors.

£25m is a lot of money to spend on a bidding process, and lose, but that would require FIFA to be paying the nations that lose out in every bidding process from now on, which amounts to a lot of money considering that three other nations (Japan, South Korea and the United States) would also have to be compensated.

But I’m even thinking qualifying for the World Cup itself should serve as good enough compensation to be honest. For the 2010 World Cup for instance, countries that failed to qualify from the group stages received $8m for their participation, while those that fell in the second round and quarter final stages received $9m and $14m respectively from FIFA/LOC.

While it’s no where near the $30m FFA spent on their failed bid, I reckon that by 2022, prize money for the above stages would be much higher than what obtains at present. Not to mention that for the World Cup winner, which was $30m when Spain broke Dutch hearts in 2010.

The Spanish and Dutch FAs meanwhile have submitted five cities to UEFA to be considered as a host city for the 2020 European Championship which will be ingeniously hosted by different cities across the continent in a bid to make the tournament a truly continental championship.

Spain, who submitted the cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao and Valencia for consideration and the Netherlands who submitted Amsterdam, are among 32 nations that have submitted at least a city for consideration to host at least one match of the championship to UEFA whose president, Michel Platini stated at a meeting of European associations in Croatia that he would make a decision of running for FIFA presidency during or after next year’s World Cup.

Some of the other nations and their cities include the British nations who submitted London, Glasgow, Cardiff and Dublin for consideration, Italy with Rome and Milan, Portugal with Porto and Lisbon, Ukraine with Kyiv and Donetsk, Russia with St. Petersburg rather than Moscow (refreshingly in fact) and France very oddly with Lyon rather than Paris.

In the end, the UEFA Executive Committee will in September 2014 select 13 cities to host the 2020 Euros, which will be the 60th anniversary edition, with the package for chosen cities either being the standard package of hosting three group matches and a knockout round match or the showpiece package of hosting a semi-final match and the final.

Other nations and their cities include Germany with Munich, Israel with Jerusalem (aye!), Croatia with Zagreb, Finnish capital Helsinki, Prague in Czech Republic, Poland with Warsaw and Chorzow, Belarus with Minsk, Kazakhstan with Astana, Belgium with Brussels, Turkey with favoured city to be given the showpiece package Istanbul and from the nation where some of the world’s finest chocolate, wristwatches and bank accounts are found… Basel.

For the week, Switzerland also serves as the nation from which one of the world’s finest football clubs is found (little bit exaggeration yeah, but Kagawa-a-care none) after FC Basel came from behind to defeat reigning Europa League champions Chelsea in their opening match of this season’s UEFA Champions League.

Oscar had put the Blues ahead in Stamford Bridge just before half time before second half goals from Mohamed Selah and Marco Streller handed Basel a first win on English soil while also inflicting a first home defeat in 29 European matches on Chelsea on the heels of a lone goal loss at Everton last weekend.

Elsewhere, Lionel Messi became the second leading Champions League scorer of all time courtesy of a hattrick in Barcelona’s 4-0 thumping of Ajax on Wednesday, a day after Cristiano Ronaldo celebrated his new contract – that makes him the highest paid footballer – with a hattrick of his own in Real Madrid’s 6-1 drubbing of Galatasaray at Istanbul.

In other results, Aaron Ramsey continued his good form in Arsenal’s 2-1 win at Olympiqur Marseille, Borussia Dortmund had their manager and goalkeeper sent off in a dramatic 2-1 loss at Napoli, PSG humbled Olympiacos 4-1 in Greece, the Manchester clubs got wins over Bayer Leverkusen and Vitoria Plzen while Bayern Munich began their title defence with a 3-0 win over CSKA Moscow.

In the Europa League group stage which began on Thursday, Adil Rami got sent off after just nine minutes in Valencia’s 3-0 home loss to European debutantes Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur got same score in the win at home to Tromsø, Wigan Athletic commendably drew goalless at Zulte-Waregem and Kevin Gameiro scored with 13 minutes left in Sevilla’s 2-1 win at Estoril.

In some other matches, Sevilla’s neighbours Real Betis drew goalless with Olympique Lyon, Giuseppe Rossi’s resurgence continued as he scored his fourth in as many matches in Fiorentina’s 3-0 win over Pacos de Ferreira, PSV Eindhoven fell to a shock 2-0 home loss to Ludogorets Razgrad, Rubin Kazan won 5-2 at Maribor, Bordeaux lost 3-0 at Frankfurt and SS Lazio got a lone goal win at home to Legia Warsaw courtesy of a Hernanes goal.

The Roman side will now prepare to face second placed city rivals AS Roma in the Rome derby on Sunday in one of several high profile matches to be played across European leagues this weekend. League leaders Napoli travel to Milan to face AC Milan later on Sunday in another Serie A match.

In France, the big spending clubs face off in the capital when Ligue 1 leaders AS Monaco pay third placed PSG a visit on Sunday, Bayern Munich visit Schalke 04 in a Bundesliga match and champions Manchester United will be guests of Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday.

Finally in Nigeria, Enyimba followed up Sunday’s Federations Cup win with a 2-0 win over Wikki Tourists on Wednesday to go second on the league table with 52 points, two points behind league leaders and defending champions Kano Pillars that lost by a lone goal at Nembe City of Bayelsa.

Bayelsa United meanwhile dropped to third behind Enyimba on goal difference following a 2-1 loss at Nasarawa United, El-Kanemi Warriors remain fourth, three points behind Pillars following a 1-0 loss at Sunshine Stars while Kwara United replaced Warri Wolves in fifth place thanks to a 2-0 win over Gombe United in Ilorin coupled with Wolves’ goalless draw with Lobi Stars.

Wolves will visit leaders Kano Pillars on Saturday, Shooting Stars host Rangers in Ibadan, Dolphins and Kwara United meet in Port Harcourt, El-Kanemi host Gombe United in Maiduguri and Enyimba visit Bayelsa United in this weekend’s top match in matchday 33 of the Nigerian Professional Football League.

That’s the bit from here today. On this (yester)day in history, revered secondary school King’s College Lagos was founded in 1909.

Then on this day in 1937, JRR Tolkien’s ”The Hobbit” is published, in 1995 the Hindu milk miracle – in which statues of the Hindu god Ganesh began drinking milk when spoonfuls were placed near their mouths – occured. And in 2004, construction of Burj Khalifa (formerly called Burj Dubai), which is now the world’s tallest building since its completion and opening in 2010, began.

The Burj Khalifa cost $1.5billion to construct, is made up of 163 floors (the most in a building since New York’s World Trade Centre with 110 floors) and stands at 2,722ft tall from ground to tip though the top floor is only at a height of 1,918ft. Both heights however set other new records.

Today also marks the birthday of (my favourite) author Stephen King, comedian Bill Murray, rapper Wale and blogger Kemmiiii. Many happy returns to them and all others born today. And a good man, Robert Onyia, was buried last night. May he and others departed rest in peace, amen!

Have a pleasant weekend!

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Över the Weekend: Özil Debut, CR7 Becomes Highest Paid and More


It was suppösed tö be the Mesut Özil shöw and for 45 minutes at the Stadium öf Light, Özil had prövided an assist for Ölivier Giröud tö scöre his first Premier League göal öutside Löndön beföre enduring the sight öf Theo Walcott spurn chance after chance.

But nö matter, Arsenal’s £42.4m man was at somewhere clöse to his peak even in illness; having tö start in Arsenal’s 3-1 win at Sunderland nö thanks tö fellöw twö-fööted midfielder Santi Cazörla becöming unavailable för the match at half past the 11th höur.

An eventful secönd half that saw Sunderland equalise fröm the spöt and have a göal ruled öut för öffside beföre succumbing to a well taken brace by Aarön Ramsey, meaning the blössöming Welsh midfielder shared the majör plaudits from the encöunter with Özil, as Arsenal went töp öf the league för the mean time.

The Gunners are followed by North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur that defeated Norwich City 2-0 through a Gylfi Sigurdsson brace for their first league goals from open play this season, while Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney – wearing a cushioned head band- scored as champions Manchester United beat Crystal Palace 2-0 at Old Trafford.

In other matches, Stoke City was the latest to make Manuel Pellegrini’s Premier League debut a tough one so far as the Chilean manager could only watch his Man. City side play out a goalless draw against the Potters. But Pellegrini’s faring better than Jose Mourinho whose second spell with Chelsea isn’t getting easier either following a lone goal loss at Everton.

Samuel Eto’o made his debut for Chelsea but was denied a debut goal in the first half as Mourinho’s side fell at Merseyside and on the league table to sixth place on seven points, behind both Manchester clubs on goal difference and ahead of Stoke and Newcastle United on goal difference with the latter getting a 2-1 win at Aston Villa on Saturday.

Gareth Bale also made his debut in Spain for Real Madrid, and even scored as his new club twice came from behind to draw 2-2 at Villarreal, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring Real’s second in that encounter before signing a contract extension that will keep him at Madrid till 2018 but more importantly, makes him the highest paid player on the planet with a reported £300,000 per week after tax deal… Bale earns same amount, before tax.

The result meanwhile saw both sides fall two points behind the leading duo in the Primera Liga, with Barcelona now sharing top spot with Atletico Madrid courtesy of a 94th minute Alexis Sanchez strike in a highly dramatic 3-2 win over Sevilla on Saturday.

On their part, Atletico earlier beat Almeria 4-2 to make it a perfect 12 points from four games alongside Barça, with both clubs having same goal difference having scored and conceded same number of goals so far.

Similar sharing could occur in Italy if Roma come away with a 4-2 win from Parma tonight, as they then would have nine points from three matches and same goals’ records with Napoli that beat Atalanta 2-0 on Saturday courtesy of goals in each half from former Real Madrid strikers Gonzalo Higuaìn and Jose Callejon.

Napoli’s win put them two points ahead of Inter Milan and champions Juventus after the archrivals played out a 1-1 draw at the San Siro. Fiorentina is also two points behind Napoli following a 1-1 draw at home to Cagliari while Livorno and Lazio follow sixth placed Roma on the table, with Livorno beating Catania 2-0 while Lazio won 3-0 at home to Chievo Verona on Sunday.

Elsewhere in Italy, Kaka made his AC Milan return at Torino buz it was Mario Balotelli who got the headlines as his stoppage time penalty salvaged a 2-2 draw for Milan in Turin. A penalty proved crucial as well in France, though Radamel Falcao’s came after just six minutes but ended up being the only goal in Monaco’s win at home to Lorient.

The win allowed Monaco to return to the top of Ligue 1 with 13 points, a points ahead of St. Etienne that had enjoyed top spot for some hours following a 3-1 win at Valenciennes on Saturday. St. Etienne had claimed top spot from champions PSG, now third with 11 points, after the Parisians won 2-0 at Bordeaux on Friday night.

Elsewhere, Marseille dropped to fourth with 10 points following a 1-1 draw at Toulouse while Olympique Lyon drew goalless at home to Rennes in a match that saw Lyon striker Bafetimbi Gomis make an unlikely appearance from the start having till only recently been banned from the first team no thanks to a rift with the club’s hierarchy.

Quite the opposite for Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan who both continue to warm their way into the good side of the Borussia Dortmund hierarchy after scoring in the crushing 6-2 defeat of Hamburg on Saturday, a win that maintained Dortmund’s perfect start to the Bundesliga season after five games.

Champions Bayern Munich trail by two points in second place following a 2-0 win at home to Hannover 96 while Bayer Leverkusen is a further points behind in third place after a 3-1 win at home to Wolfsburg with Stefan Kießling scoring a brace for Leverkusen and increase his tally to four league goals. Deutsche-Nigerian Sidney Sam got Leverkusen’s other goal there.

In Nigeria, the Federations Cup final was won by Enyimba on Sunday in dramatic fashion, twice coming from behind to finish the match against Warri Wolves 2-2 – with Enyimba’s second coming deep in stoppage time through Uwa Ugwu’s freekick – before winning 5-4 on penalties for their second title in five seasons.

Earlier on, Rivers Angels won the women’s final of the Cup after easing to a 3-0 win over Nasarawa with Gloria Ofuegbu scoring a brace as the Angels successfully defended their title.

Enyimba meanwhile have secured a spot in next season’s CAF Confederations Cup although Wolves could still get that ticket if Enyimba, currently fourth on the league table, manage to win the league or finish second and qualify for next year’s CAF Champions League.

In this year’s CAF Champions League, Ah Ahly on Sunday came from a goal down to defeat Cairo archrivals Zamalek 4-2 and all but secure passage to the semi-final with a game to spare in Group A. Deposed group leader Orlando Pirates lost by a lone goal at AC Leopards of Congo on Saturday.

The latter result means Pirates and Leopards, both with seven points, or Zamalek with four points could still qualify from the group if results in the final group matches on September 22 go their respective ways, with Pirates next facing Ahly at home while Leopards visit Zamalek. While the others need a win, Ahly will qualify if Leopards fail to win at Zamalek.

In Group B, Esperance of Tunisia secured top spot and a semi-final place with 12 points from five matches following a 3-2 win at home to Recreativo do Libolo while Cotonsport, with eight points, qualified for the last four in second spot after a goalless draw at Sewe Sport that has four points along with Recreativo.

And in the Davis Cup semi-final, having lost the third rubber doubles match to go 2-1 down, Serbia defeated Canada by three rubbers to two through wins by Novak Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic in their respective singles matches against Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil.

Serbia, champions in 2010, will now face defending champions Czech Republic in the final after the Czech’s, led by Tomas Berdych, completed a 5-0 rout of Argentina in the other semi-final. The final will take place between November 15-17 at Belgrade.

Spain and Great Britain meanwhile returned to the World Group with Spain winning all five rubbers against Ukraine while Great Britain got a 4-1 win over Croatia to make it through to the World Group where countries will know their first round opponents when the draws are held on Wednesday.

With that, it’s a wrap from here. This season’s UEFA Champions League kicks off from Tuesday with Manchester United hosting Bayer Leverkusen, Arsenal visiting Marseille, Napoli hosting Dortmund and Ajax facing Barcelona at the Camp Nou in some of this week’s matches.

Today marks the independence of Mexico from Spain in 1810 and the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer… so you might as well plant a tree or not drive a car today, unless it’s hybrid of course.

On this day in 1959, the first successful photocopier, the Xerox 914, is introduced in New York on live television. Nine years later in 1968, singer Marc Anthony is born while in 1984, Georgian singer Katie Melua is born.

Many happy returns to them and everyone else born today. And a pleasant week to us all wherever we are.

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Over the Weekend: Bittersweet Bronze for Brits, Red Devils, Barça Start off in a Blitz & More


The IAAF World Championship came to an end in Moscow on Sunday with the Jamaicans signing off in grand style by claiming gold in the 4x100m men and women’s races, with sprinters Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce finishing with three gold medals each.

While the men’s race was a close affair till the baton was passed on to Bolt in the final leg, the women’s race was a jog in the avenue for Fraser-Pryce and co as the Jamaican women finished some light years ahead of the rest of the field.

The drama in those races however came well after when, after doing a lap of honour round the Luzhniki to celebrate their third place finish, Britain’s men’s relay team were informed of their disqualification right before the medal presentation.

That meant Canada, whose team finished fourth, were awarded bronze eventually. According to officials, the British relay team were disqualified due to the second baton exchange occuring outside the changeover zone… much to the utter disappointment of the British team.

Only for a bit of consolation to come by the Britons soon after, as their female 4x100m relay team got bumped up to third place following the disqualification of the French relay team that finished second, for the exact reason the British men had been disqualified.

Nigeria’s participation in Moscow meanwhile ended on a sour note as the women’s 4x100m relay team dropped their baton during a changeover and finished last on Saturday hence, failed to qualify for Sunday’s finale. Team Nigeria therefore finished the World Championship with Blessing Okagbare’s silver and bronze medals from the long jump and 200m to show for.

Much attention however was on the Premier League, which kicked off over the weekend at Anfield where a Daniel Sturridge strike in the first half was the difference between Liverpool and Stoke City, with Reds goalkeeper Simon Mignolet saving a late Jon Walters penalty to ensure Liverpool won by that lone Sturridge goal.

The late drama there was ample prelude for an eventful weekend that saw Arsenal fall to a 3-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa courtesy of two penalties converted by Christian Benteke while Arsenal defenders Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna went off injured either side of Laurent Koscielny getting sent off in what was a shambolic start to the league season for the Gunners.

Champions Manchester United eased to the top of the league with a 4-1 demolition of Swansea City courtesy of braces from Robin van Persie again and Danny Welbeck, whose lob for his second and United’s fourth capped a clinical performance by David Moyes’s side.

Chelsea were also comfortable winners, defeating Hull City (Tigers) 2-0 in a match that saw a Frank Lampard penalty saved early on only for the midfielder to rifle home a 35yard freekick to put the Blues 2-0 up. Elsewhere at Selhurst Park, debutant record signing Roberto Soldado’s contested penalty got Tottenham Hotspur a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace.

Across the channel in France, Olympique Marseille, Monaco and St. Etienne kept up with Olympique Lyon’s perfect start to the season, with Marseille beating Evian TG 2-0 at the Velodrome, Monaco crushing 2012 champions Montpellier 4-1 with goals from Emmanuel Rivière with a hattrick and Radamel Falcao who is reportedly unsettled at the club. That has to be a bad joke.

St. Etienne also won over the weekend to be level on six points with league leaders Lyon that had beaten Sochaux 3-1 on Friday. Champions PSG on their part had Edinson Cavani to thank for salvaging a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Ajaccio.

The Parisians somehow failed to score more as a combination of good saves from Guillermo Ochoa (football managers, aye!), three goalline clearances and the woodwork on two occasions ensured PSG’s 39 shots to Ajaccio’s one didn’t reflect in the final score, leaving PSG four points off the pace already.

In Germany, champions Bayern Munich managed a lone goal win at Eintracht Frankfurt courtesy of a well struck effort by Mario Mandzukic, though rivals Borussia Dortmund went top of the league, ahead of Bayern on goal difference thanks to a 2-1 win at home to newly promoted Braunschweig (loving the pronunciation of that every passing week) in a match that saw all three goals scored in the closing 15 minutes.

Juventus needed not to wait that long to stamp their supremacy as overlords of Italian football though, taking the lead in the Supercoppa against Lazio through substitute Paul Pogba midway through the first half before three goals in six second half minutes from Giorgio Chiellini, former Lazio defender Stefan Lichtsteiner and debutant Carlos Tevez sealed a 4-0 win for the Old Lady.

Spanish football overlords Barcelona began their title defence in crushing fashion as well, tikitaking to a routine 7-0 dispatch of Levante from the Nou Camp, a match in which Barça led by four goals by the half hour mark and went into the half time break six goals up. World player of the year Lionel Messi got a brace, of course… as did Pedro. Even Xavi and Dani Alves got a goal each in a win that seemed like stuff from preseason.

Title rivals Real Madrid had it much tougher however, needing a debut goal by attacking midfielder Isco four minutes from time to earn a hardfought 2-1 win over Real Betis at the Bernabeu in a match that saw two own goals by Betis’ Damien Perquis cancelled out for offside.

Isco’s former club Malaga meanwhile lost by a lone goal at Valencia, Atletico Madrid scored a 3-1 win at Sevilla with Diego Costa scoring a brace and Real Sociedad prepared for the Champions League playoff against Lyon in midweek with a 2-0 win over Granada.

In Africa, Orlando Pirates of South Africa maintained top spot in their CAF Champions League group following an impressive 4-1 demolition of Egyptian giants Zamalek, thus opening a three point gap lead atop Group A, ahead of AC Leopards of Congo that lost 1-0 at home to another Egyptian giant Al Ahly.

While the Egyptians have performed below par so far, their Tunisian rival Esperance now leads Group B with six points, ahead of Cameroun’s Coton Sport, following a lone goal win at Sewe Sport. Coton on their part beat Recreativo Libolo 2-1 and send the Angolans to the bottom of the group with three points after three matches.

No Nigerian club is involved in this season’s group stage; with Libolo knocking Enugu Rangers out in the final qualifying round. And Rangers’ quest to make a return to Africa’s elite club competition got a slight boost courtesy of a lone goal win over Gombe United in a Nigeria Premier League match on Sunday.

That win puts Rangers in eighth place on 36 points, a point behind Gombe and Sunshine Stars and seven points behind leaders Kano Pillars that lost 2-1 at sixth placed Sunshine Stars in Akure. Pillars now hold a one point lead over three clubs, with Warri Wolves maintaining second spot after losing by a lone goal at Nembe City in Kano.

Enyimba rose to third courtesy of a 1-0 win at home to Kaduna United while Bayelsa United slipped to fourth place on the league table following a 2-0 loss against Shooting Stars in Ibadan.

Other results saw Kwara United drop to fifth with 39 points following a 2-1 loss at Nasarawa United, Heartland pipped Dolphins by a lone goal in Owerri, Sharks edged Lobi Stars by the same score in Port Harcourt and El-Kanemi Warriors drew 1-1 at Akwa United.

Wrapping up with tennis, former world number three Rafael Nadal’s US Open preparations went well enough after claiming his first Cincinnati Masters title with a 7-6 7-6 victory over American John Isner.

The win, which makes him world number two with Andy Murray dropping to third, was Nadal’s ninth title this year and ensured his unbeaten streak on hard courts this year remains intact. The Spaniard has also now won nine of 12 tournaments he has played in this year, losing in the final of two other tournaments before losing in the first round at Wimbledon.

In the women’s tournament, world number two Viktoria Azarenka came from a set down to win 2-6 6-2 7-6 (8-6) against top ranked Serena Williams who played the match with a ‘stomach strain’.

Rather more interesting was news that world number three Maria Sharapova and coach Jimmy Connors parted company over the weekend. Sharapova had been beaten in the second round in Cincinnati by Sloane Stephens, her first match since making Connors her coach following a similarly disappointing campaign at Wimbledon.

With that, it’s a wrap from here. Manchester City and new manager Manuel Pellegrini begin their Premier League campaign at home to Newcastle United tonight while Arsenal will look to recover from crumbling on Saturday when they come up against Turkish side Fernabahce in a UEFA Champions League first leg playoff match on Wednesday.

The Gunners will be without Bacary Sagna and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with neck and injuries respectively while at the moment, Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky may miss the match as well. And Arsène Wenger is still content Yaya Sanogo is his only signing (so far) this summer. All is well.

On this day in 1612, three women – the Samlesbury witches – were accused by a 14 year old and subsequently put on trial for practising witchcraft. All three wimen were however acquitted. 80 years later to the day, five people (including a clergyman) in Massachusetts were not as fortunate as they were executed after being convicted of witchcraft. No such history yet from the folks in Benin City or Ogbomosho though.

And while I have no friends celebrating their birthday today, there’s former US President Bill Clinton who turns 67 today, Matthew Perry of ‘Friends’ fame who is 44 today, (not so) Fat Joe is now 43 while Italian footballers Marco Materazzi and Allessandro Matri are 40 and 29 today respectively.

Also, American musician Nate Dogg would’ve been 44 today and Reeva Steenkamp, murdered (maliciously or otherwise, court will soon decide… most likely decide manslaughter) by boyfriend Oscar Pistorius, would’ve been 30 today. May they keep on resting in peace, Amen!

Have yourself a great week ahead!

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Over the Weekend: Nigerian Club Football Decay, No More Blue Clay & More


Nigerian club football, as far as this season is concerned, sunk into the abyss of irrelevance over the weekend when her last continental representative got knocked out at the last qualifying round before, by African (CAF) standards, the lucrative group stage.

Needing a score-draw at least to qualify, having played out a goalless draw in the first leg in Enugu a fortnight ago, Rangers fell 3-1 at Recreativo do Libolo of Angola and failed to make the Champions League group stage, barely four months after Sunshine Stars made the semi-final of last season’s edition.

Defending champions Al Ahly, that beat Sunshine on their way to the title last season, made it through to the group stage now with a 2-1 aggregate win over Tunisia’s Bizertin, while Zamalek had Abdoulaye Cisse to thank as his brace, the second being the equaliser two minutes to full time, earned a 2-2 draw for the Cairo club at St. George of Ethiopia and qualification on away goals.

Tunisian giants Esperance also made it through with a lone goal aggregate win over Algeria’s Beja but DR Congo’s TP Mazembe fell short against 10-man Orlando Pirates of South Africa, winning the return home leg by a lone goal but losing to the Bucs 3-2 on aggregate.

The 2011 African champions will be weighed down by a heap of regret from the encounter, having had two penalties either side of the match’s lone goal saved by the Pirates goalkeeper, with the second penalty saved on the 89th minute.

Scant consolation for the Congolese side, along with Enugu Rangers and the other clubs that lost in the final qualifying round of the Champions League, is the drop to the CAF Confederations Cup they’ll make, as is the case in Europe.

England meanwhile still awaits who her third and possible fourth representatives at next season’s UEFA Champions League would be after the trio of clubs chasing those two spots won their respective Premier League matches by a lone goal over the weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur first replaced Arsenal in fourth place and went level on 65 points with then third placed Chelsea, thanks to a late Gareth Bale strike in the win at home to the Welshman’s former club Southampton.

Another ex-saint however sent Spurs back to fifth and Arsenal up to third on 67 points, as Theo Walcott’s goal 20 seconds into the match at already relegated Queens Park Rangers put the Gunners two points clear of their top four London rivals for a day.

The initial third to fifth league table positions from the start of the weekend was restored on Sunday evening as a late Phil Jones own goal (initially awarded as a Juan Mata goal) gave Chelsea a crucial win at league champions Manchester United.

Interestingly, the win at Old Trafford, coupled with Manchester City’s goalless draw at Swansea City, put Chelsea four points behind the dethroned league champions with both Blues having three matches left to play.

Man. City could however seal second spot with a win on Tuesday night at home to West Brom, as long as Chelsea fail to win Wednesday night’s pseudo-Cup final at home to Tottenham, where a win for the latter would draw them level with Chelsea and drop Arsenal to fifth, a point behind, all with two matches to play then… thus presenting a real and dramatic possibility of Arsenal not making the Champions League for the first time in the Wenger era.

However, even if Spurs do win at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, one can hear many a gooner go “nehh, it’s Spurs! They’ll still f*** it up!”… time will tell.

That time is all of a sudden running out for Fulham, Sunderland, Newcastle United, Southampton, Norwich City and Wigan Athletic in their quest to avoid the last reservation in a sinking relegation cruise that has QPR and Reading comfortably lodged in.

Fulham did itself no favour by losing 4-2 at home to Reading, a result that leaves the Cottagers on 40 points and five points off the relegation zone, while Newcastle United drew goalless at West Ham United to find themselves three points off that reservation with 38 points.

Aston Villa attained 40 points, behind Fulham and Stoke City on goal difference, thanks to a 2-1 win at Norwich that as a result dropped within three points of the drop zone, ahead of Newcastle on goal difference.

And with Sunderland, that got blown 6-1 by Villa last Monday, just two points off Wigan Athletic that currently occupies the unwanted 18th position, Callum McNamara’s late winner for Wigan in the 3-2 win at West Brom could prove a most decisive goal just because Wigan have a game in hand which they play on Tuesday at home to Swansea that is winless in six matches.

A win for Wigan in that match and they go level in points with but ahead of Norwich and Newcastle on the table with two matches to play, potentially setting up an eight-way scramble from the last relegation reservation, which would be far more interesting and dramatic than the tussle for top four places.

Probably would be as dramatic as the final day in the Championship (the teams above are fighting against to drop into) which saw Hull City gain promotion to the Premier League thanks to a 2-2 draw with already promoted Cardiff City, finishing two points ahead of Watford City that would have got that promotion had it won its match at home to Leeds United, instead of losing 2-1.

Watford instead will go through the playoffs now to gain promotion, along with Brighton, Wilfried Zaha’s Crystal Palace and Leicester City that finished in the last playoff spot ahead of Bolton Wanderers on goal difference and ahead of Nottingham Forest, where they won 3-2 thanks to a late goal, by a point.

Elsewhere in Europe, Juventus won its 29th Serie A title after a lone goal win over Palermo, while Napoli consolidated on second spot with an Edinson Cavani inspired 3-1 win over Inter Milan and AC Milan won by a lone goal to open a four point lead in third place over Fiorentina that lost to a lone stoppage time Osvaldo goal at home to fifth placed AS Roma.

Roma’s city rivals and Coppa Italia final opponent, Lazio demolished visiting Bologna 6-0 with 34 year old Miroslav Klose scoring an incredible five goals, but remain in seventh, three points behind Roma with three matches to play.

In Spain and France, Barcelona and PSG were made to wait another week before claiming their respective league titles with Barcelona made to (was going to write “work hard” but… ) call on Messi who scored twice and hit the crossbar within 10 minutes of coming on (seems so unfair) to secure a 4-2 win over Real Betis to restore their 11 point advantage over Real Madrid that won 4-3 at home to Real Valladolid with four matches to play. All in a half hour’s job for the reigning world player of the year.

Alex meanwhile earned 10-man PSG a 1-1 draw at home to Valenciennes, leaving Les Parisiens needing a win in this weekend’s visit of third placed Olympique Lyon, or a draw there and a loss to Olympique Marseille to claim a first league title since 1994. That’s 19 years Arsenal fans, be calm and take note.

In Germany, a dress rehearsal of the UEFA Champions League saw Borussia Dortmund held to a 1-1 draw by Bayern Munich in a match Manuel Neuer saved a Robert Lewsndowski penalty while Rafinha got sent off following two yellow cards in as many minutes, sparking an amusing melee between camps of both sides on the sidelines. May 25 better be even more interesting.

While Bayern and Dortmund’s title match is still to come, Wladimir Klitschko and Floyd Mayweather retained theirs in the boxing ring, overcoming challenges from Francesco Pianeta and Robert Guerrero respectively.

For Klitschko, the Ukrainian won after knocking his former sparring partner Pianeta out a third time on the night in the sixth round and claim a 51st win via knockout in 60 professional fights.

For Mayweather, the money man retained his title by an unanimous decision that saw all three judges give him the fight with a count of 117-111 against a previously unbeaten Guerrero, extending his own unbeaten record in boxing to 44 wins and reportedy earning at least $32.5m from the fight.

The prize money at the Madrid Open in tennis isn’t anywhere near that figure, but some of the sports’ top players will compete at the clay surface tournament that returns to conventional red clay after unsuccessfully experimenting with blue clay last year.

Women’s number one player Serena Williams along with Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ana Ivanovic, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber are through to the second round there while Caroline Wozniacki and Li Na however got knocked out in straight sets by Yaroslava Shvedova and 18 year old qualifier Madison Keys respectively.

In the men’s, Fernando Verdasco and Radek Stepanek have made it to the second round while the top seeds; the Djokovices, Federers and Nadals, will serve their campaign off from later today.

And that’s game, set, match with today’s post. I’m not even going to front, Chelsea has to beat Tottenham on Wednesday night for Arsenal’s sake.

Have a great week ahead; except you’re Tottenham. 😐

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During the Week: About Finals, Managers and More


I was going to start on an emotional note by lashing Jose Mourinho for starting Gonzalo Higuain on Tuesday night instead of Karim Benzema. In the end, two late goals from Benzema and Sergio Ramos gave majority watching in the Bernabeu and elsewhere a false hope of an unlikely qualification ticket.

In the end, Borussia Dortmund held on to qualify for this season’s UEFA Champions League final with a 4-3 aggregate win in a rather entertaining encounter whose second leg scoreline somewhat belies the true story of the match.

Real dominated on the night but Dortmund stubbornly came closest to opening the scoring when first leg chief tormentor Robert Lewandowski finally got through on goal, having been well marked prior to, only for Diego Lopez to, by the faintest graze of the ball by his glove, deflect the ball onto the crossbar and out for a goal kick.

Dortmund’s case wasn’t helped by Mario Götze’s early exit due to an injury and his absence was felt for the rest of the match. Unfortunately, Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp reckons the Bayern bound midfielder is a big doubt for the May 25 showdown against the Bavarians. Honest talk or mind game? Time will tell.

Either way, Bayern’s concern will be to claim Europe’s top club prize in their third final in four seasons, and their intent was made clearly as a cloudless sky with another emphatic victory over Barcelona to complete an absurd, yet thoroughly deserved 7-0 aggregate annihilation of the Catalans.

Barça was made a scapegoat of a footballing punishment they’re otherwise known to dish regularly by a deathly determined Bayern side that will not give thought to being runners-up in the Champions League a third time in four seasons; especially after losing last season’s against Chelsea, on home soil, in that manner.

So all the better for Juup Heynckes’ side if Götze will not be available for the final, just as he definitely won’t be this weekend when both teams meet in a Bundesliga match. That said, Götze’s has played for Dortmund like he always has hence, a feeling that his talent will be missed very much next season and crucially for Dortmund in the Champions League final, should he miss it.

For now however, with the league title won already and Dortmund sure bets to finish second (20 points behind Bayern), both teams could field much weakened sides in a dead rubber match, just to not hint at what to expect from either side when they meet again at the end of May.

No such luxurious option for Chelsea in the Premier League when they visit a Manchester United that will likely play a mix of fringe and first team players on Sunday, with the Blues still chasing a top four finish in order to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

On Thursday, Rafael Benitez’s side made it to the Europa League final with a 5-2 aggregate win over FC Basel, coming from behind to claim a 3-1 win on the night with a stellar second half performance that saw Fernando Torres, Victor Moses and David Luiz with a long range beauty get the goals for Chelsea.

Next up for them there is a familiar opponent in Portugal’s Benfica that recorded same scoreline as Chelsea at home to Fernabahce to qualify 3-2 on aggregate for the final in Amsterdam on May 15, a match that would be Chelsea’s seventh Cup final in five years.

Considering that, in the years that have been the Roman era, it leaves one wondering why the London club have had almost as many managers as the years Abramovich has owned the club, putting what success is into some weird relative context.

Such weird relative context is what Benitez finds himself in now, remaining unwanted by the club’s fans since the day in November he was appointed till the end of this season when his interim contract will expire.

And that is despite reaching the Europa League final, the last four of the FA Cup and winning five of the club’s last seven league matches; a form that led to him being named Premier League manager of the month of April, as well as seven of the last 10 in all competitions.

We will therefore see another manager leave Stamford Bridge even though that manager has, in a matter of months, performed relatively well. Unlike Roberto Di Matteo’s time however, Benitez isn’t just unwanted by the club’s Russian owner but also by the club’s fans who previously criticised Abramovich’s for making hasty decisions when it came to sacking a manager instead of exercising patience and backing a manager.

Only manager that didn’t get the hasty treatment was Jose Mourinho who left after losing a power tussle with Abramovich years ago. Old wounds however heal over time and if nuances are to be believed Abramovich could fulfill the wish of majority of Chelsea fans and bring the ‘Special One’ back to the Bridge. Time will tell.

Mourinho meantime has, with some discontent, been going on about being a ‘useless’ manager after only managing to win a league title, two Copa Del Rey titles and a Spanish Super Cup in his three seasons at the Bernabeu as well as reaching three successive Champions League semi-finals and another Copa Del Rey final.

He went further to reveal his regret at not getting Diego Lopez earlier than he did while insinuating some players (Iker Casillas perhaps one) are not exactly pleased with his training methods.

All that comes soon after he’d talked about wanting to be where he was loved following Real’s Champions League exit, saying “I know in England I am loved. I know I am loved by some clubs, especially one.” and adding he will only decide his future at the club when he meets with Real president Florentino Perez at the end of this season.

Ahead of that time, he will try to have Real Madrid put Barcelona’s league title celebrations on hold when Real Valladolid visit the Bernabeu, while Barça host Real Betis needing a win and for Real Madrid to lose in order to wrap up the La Liga title this weekend.

Elsewhere, PSG could win the Ligue Un title this weekend as well with a win at home to Valenciennes along with other results going their way. Same scenario applies for Juventus when they face Palermo in the Serie A.

Coming home, Nigeria’s last representative in continental competitions will on Sunday look to qualify for the group stage of the CAF Champions League but Enugu Rangers must at least earn a score draw at Recreativo do Libolo of Angola to do so after the first leg ended goalless in Enugu.

Egyptian giants Al Ahly need an outright win at home to Bizertin to qualify after a goalless first leg, as does Esperance of Tunisia at home to JSM Beja, while another former champion TP Mazembe have a 3-1 deficit to overcome at home to Orlando Pirates.

AC Leopards, that knocked Nigeria’s Kano Pillars out on away goals in the previous round, meanwhile made the group stage on Friday night via penalty shoot-out after losing the second leg against Algeria’s ES Setif 3-1 to leave aggregate scores tied at 4-4, having won the first leg 3-1 as well.

Finally in boxing, Wladimir Klitschko will defend four world titles against former sparring partner Francesco Pianeta on Saturday night, with the latter unbeaten in his professional career. Klitschko on his part has suffered three losses in 59 fights but has won via knockout 50 times, so Pianeta really is up against a brick here.

With that, it’s a wrap here. Today marks the 19th anniversary of Rashidi Yekini scoring Nigeria’s first ever World Cup goal at USA ’94. It sadly is also the first anniversary of his death. May he rest in peace, amen.

Wish some form of respect will be paid him in next week’s Nigeria Professional Football League matches just as the Hillsborough 96 will be remembered and Everton fans appreciated when the Merseyside derby is played at Anfield on Sunday in one of this weekend’s highlight matches, as both sides chase a Europa League spot in the Premier League.

In Italy, Inter Milan visit second placed Napoli needing a win desperately to keep hopes of finishing in a Europa League spot alive while Fiorentina host Roma with the former seeking a win to keep faint Champions League qualification hopes alive. Then there’s relegation threatened Deportivo la Coruña, unbeaten in its last six league matches, hosting third placed Atletico Madrid at the Riazor later today.

Whichever match catches your fancy though, do enjoy it along with the rest of your weekend. Cheers.

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